Angelo Palazzo on using Krotos Reformer Pro and Dehumaniser 2 in Stranger Things 3 and Frozen II.
Multiple award-winning Sound Designer Angelo Palazzo‘s career spans 25 years, and has seen him work on huge titles such as Star Trek, From Dusk Til Dawn, Alita: Battle Angel, and many more.
2019 has been a busy year for him, and we’ve just heard of his nomination for MPSE Golden Reels for his recent work on Stranger Things 3 and Frozen II.
We caught up with Angelo to hear about his year, and to find out more about what role his Krotos software played in some of 2019’s biggest features and TV shows!
Hi Angelo, thanks for taking the time to talk to us again! Since we last spoke, you’ve worked on two major projects: Stranger Things 3 and Frozen 2. How did you land the Stranger Things gig, and what was it like joining the Sound Department on the third season?
Hey guys! Thanks for reaching out again for an interview. It’s always a pleasure. Yes, it’s been a busy year, for sure.. Stranger Things 3 was definitely one of the highlights and a blast to work on. It’s been quite a ride working on such a popular show and for a successful platform like Netflix.
The show came about for me through my relationship with Craig Henighan who I’ve known and worked with for many years. We were working on Alita: Battle Angel earlier in the year and he asked me if I’d like to take on the SFX Editorial for ST3. Of course, I said yes. I’m also a fan of the show so I was excited to be a part of it and I was definitely inspired about getting to add my style and choices to the show.
Our Sound Department is really a talented group of committed sound professionals. We function more like collaborators rather than a formal department as all of us have the mutual goal of wanting to produce excellent sound work. I’m definitely proud to be a part of this team. It includes re-recording mixers Will Files and Mark Paterson, Craig Henighan as our Sound Supervisor and lead Sound Designer, Ryan Cole is our Dialogue Supervisor, Katie Halliday is our Assistant Editor, and David Klotz is our Music Editor. Craig and David have been on since the first season and the rest of us are all new to the show. For me in terms of sound fx, this was exciting because it meant I had a lot of opportunities to get creative and bring my perspective and style to the show. Most of us actually worked remotely from our own studios which is fairly common these days and I think the first time we as a team were all in the same room together was during playback of the final episode.
What was your role on Stranger Things 3? Is there a particular scene / moment you’re the most proud of, and how did you achieve it?
I was the lead SFX Editor in that I was responsible for editing, sourcing, and recording the sound fx and backgrounds for each episode. We had decided early on that we weren’t going to use any of the fx or backgrounds from the first two season so I built up the FX and backgrounds for season three entirely from the ground up, so to speak. Occasionally, Craig and I collaborated on some sound design elements but overall I handled the sound fx. Our workflow was once I completed an episode, I would send it to Craig and he’d combine his design, add any additional elements and then ship it to the mix stage for the final. During the mix, Katie would help with any fx updates or adds and Craig and I would be on to the next episode in order to stay ahead of the schedule.
It’s hard to pick a particular scene I’m most proud of but I definitely enjoyed building out all the rich layers for the Carnival and Fourth of July scenes which included lots of fireworks, rides, screaming crowds, fights, and stylized slow motion. Also the big season finale of the Battle of Starcourt was a particularly fun and challenging episode as it involved it brought together all the big elements of the show. It involved a lot of fast-paced action, hefty fights, guns, fireworks, gore and stylized cutting between the battle in the Starcourt Mall and Hopper and Joyce infiltrating the Russian base on a mission to destroy the huge laser beam drill.
One thing I got a chance to do a lot of during ST3 is recording new material. I was on the show early enough and had plenty of lead up time to come up with ideas and record new material. Also during the post schedule, there were many opportunities to get out and record.
Since there were so many new locations this season, I got a chance to really explore some new backgrounds and sounds. For me, this was great. It was an opportunity to record new sounds and create very focused and custom sound tracks. I was constantly looking for chances to record. Even small, incidental things like in the Byers house, for example, all the doors, the dropping magnets, the microwave, refrigerator, and anything else I could think of is from my home.
My electric garage door was recorded to add character Mr Clarke’s garage door since it’s squeaky and jittery and helped add to the comedy of the scene when Winona Ryder (Joyce) goes to visit him. Los Angeles was hit with some heavy rainy days last November so I built up a new rain library that ended up in the show particularly in Ep 03 “The Case of the Missing Lifeguard” which mostly takes place during a deluge of rain.
Also, a carnival showed up one weekend near Burbank where I live and I was able to get lots of new crowd recordings, motors, rollercoaster tracks clacking, hammer hits, bells, gallery call outs, and scream bys and cheers etc. The carnival even had an exact Gravitron ride like the one in the show. I couldn’t believe it. I remember taking a photo and sending it to Craig saying something like, “Dude, look what I just recorded.” Haha.
Finally, for The Starcourt Mall, I went to The Burbank Town Center Mall and recorded various perspectives of all the different levels to create the ambience and feel of Starcourt. I recorded various POV’s as well as the food court, doors, wallas, crowds, parking lot, etc. Katie also did some of her own mall recordings as well as some public pool recordings for the early episodes which help round out a nice collection of new sounds.
You’ve been using Krotos software for quite some time now (I believe you were amongst the first Krotos users right from the beginning!). How have you incorporated them, and have they contributed to your workflow?
Reformer Pro and Dehumaniser 2 have definitely become part of my workflow. Overall I’d say Reformer Pro is my go-to-tool for quickly creating new fx layers and unique combinations and sweetener. I really like how it allows me to try out new ideas and achieve usable results without losing my creative flow or getting bogged down in technicalities and setup time. The most amount of time I ever need to spend with Reformer is when I’m building new libraries, which in fact doesn’t take much time at all and once that’s done, it’s off to the races and that’s when the fun starts.
In regards to creature vocal design, in the early days for me, I used to approach it by first creating a guide track using my own voice. This would simply allow me to have a road map of some of the expressions and directions I wanted to explore. More often than not though my voice would rarely end up in my final tracks since it wasn’t very usable. Now with Dehumaniser, I can still create my roadmaps the same way but now I can processes my voice and get much closer to the final result. It’s also way more fun and inspiring using Dehumansier 2 and it often gives me new ideas. Best of all, even though I will also end up layering in other other elements, Dehumaniser allows me to create very usable tracks that will typically end up in my final build.
Have you created your own libraries in Reformer Pro, and what kind of results have you achieved, any cool tricks you could share?
Oh yeah, I’ve created loads of custom libraries with Reformer Pro and I’ve come to learn which type of sounds work best too. It’s a lot of fun to go out and record new material and then build out libraries in Rerformer to use for a project.
A good example is in Ep 06: E Pluribus Unum. During this episode, El uses her abilities to find Billy and see into his past. We find ourselves in an idyllic dreamy beach sequence with waves softly crashing as Billy and his mother enjoy happy times. This scene slowly turns dark and sinister as his father shows up and the sky goes dark and electrical elements can be seen in the waves crashing and in the sky.
One of the ideas I came up with while I was looking at the waves crashing in the scene was how this dreamy scene gave the waves an almost ethereal quality. To me it look kind of like elegant thin papers slowly tearing with each wave crash. Paper tears have an almost ethereal, electrical quality to them so I thought it would be interesting to try to combine each wave crash with these tears to give them an otherworldly quality. I set about creating libraries in Reformer of soft beach waves crashing and paper tears and began experimenting and layering to find the right blends and combinations. Along with traditional editorial, I was able to create a scene that worked out really well and I was very happy with the results.
Another example that was all the guttural and gross gore material that needed to be cut and created. I knew that I would be dealing with lots of gore, slime, bones and blood this season so I set out early making new recordings of thick goopy mud and yogurt as well as fibrous vegetables crunching, twisting and breaking for cartilage and bone. I would then use these to create separate custom libraries in Reformer and play around until I got combinations, layers, or sweeteners I liked. When combined with my editorial tracks, I was able to get some very nice results. Fortunatley, I also already have a formidable library of gore from years of working with Robert Rodriquez on many of his movies like Grindhouse, Machete, Sin City 2, Predators, and Alita: Battle Angel so I didn’t need to create too much new stuff but anytime I got extra time to record new gore ST3, I was sure to do it. You can hear some good examples throughout the season but two of my favorites are in the hospital scenes in Ep.5 “The Flayed” and Ep. 8 The Battle of Starcourt.
You worked on Frozen, and have recently completed Frozen 2, what was it like going back to the Frozen Universe, had much changed?
It was so fun getting to come back into the Disney world of Frozen. It was such a blast working on the first Frozen so getting asked to return to contribute my sound design and join the team again for Frozen 2 was such an honor. The post production sound was handled by the awesome folks at The Formosa Group. Formosa is such a great group of professionals and talent and some of favorite people in the sound industry are here. On Frozen 2, we had Sound Supervisor and lead Sound Designer, Odin Benitez, Pernell Salinas our Sound Assistant, Sound Designers Jeff Sawyer, Eliot Connors and Stephen Robinson, Harrison Meyle our Dialogue/ADR Supervisor, and our excellent mixers David Fluhr and Gabriel Guy. Also, new to the Frozen 2 team are a couple of young up and coming and talented editors Chris Bonis who handled Foley and Russel Topal who is a solid editor and rounded out our editorial team.
The Frozen Universe has changed in the sense that all the characters are, of course, older and dealing with more mature issues you might say. It’s sort of a darker Frozen with heavier issues to tackle and unpredictable characters to design. Elsa is presented as sort of a warrior at times and she isn’t afraid of confrontation or conflict so it all makes for a fun sound challenge.
It must be a lot of fun working in this Universe! How different is it designing for animation, does it mean you can put more creativity in to bringing your visions to life, and are there any major challenges that come with it?
I’ve always felt that animation is deceivingly challenging and often follows a very different set of “rules” than real-life action movies. The main thing is it looks all fun and playful because you’re in this world of colorful, cute and fun characters but when the action gets going you notice that they don’t move in a way that follows the laws of physics. They might jump or swirl or run or quickly appear or disappear in a way that isn’t possible in real life so, in terms of sound design and editorial, you need to be super-precise and tight and your sound choices must be focused and purposeful. You really can’t have any extra-fat so to speak when building your tracks.
Yes, I feel like I bring a level of creatively to animation that that’s different than typical live action. Real-life action is dictated much by what you see on screen but with animation who can play with perception. I find myself trying all sorts of sound experiments and thinking far outside the box when I need to create magic, or elemental characters or spirt sounds. Frozen 2 has a whole host of “spirit” characters that Elsa and the gang have to contend with. One of my main designs I was asked to create was Gale, the Wind Spirit.
Could you tell us some more about how you used your Krotos software on Frozen 2?
Yeah. When I designed Gale, I needed to create various expressions for her. For example, when we first meet her, she’s very playful and fluttery and is teasing and toying with Olaf. Later she becomes super angry and turns into this raging gale-force wind tornado. Each of these expressions needed organic natural elements like leaves and winds, of course, but more importantly needed “vocal” expressions to match her moves so that we could identify her voice and what she’s “saying” or “feeling”. I experimented with different recipes of plug ins to get what I wanted for this and Reformer Pro was instrumental when I needed to create unique combinations of winds, leaves, and other fluttery expressive tonalities and “vocal” elements.
I ended up creating Gale’s voice in a way that presents her as very ethereal, and expressive but it’s not actually a voice and yet it’s very identifiable that it’s her character and expressions. I created her movements to be organic with winds and leaves and whooshes etc but her actual “voice” was not wind at all. I first experimented with my voice and with female voices but non of that worked. Eventually what I designed was surprisingly unique and delicate. It was something I experimented with early on that caught Jennifer Lee’s attention so I knew I was on to something and going in the right direction. By the end I had developed a full “vocabulary” for Gale and she loved and was very happy. She kept wanting to know how I created Gale’s “voice” and expressions but I playfully told her that if I can’t tell her because it would lift the veil of “movie magic” and potentially ruin her movie experience.
It wasn’t that I was trying to be mysterious, or protective or precious about it. It’s more of a phenomenon that every sound designer encounters eventually in their career. That is, the minute you tell your director how you did something, it kind of messes up their experience of the movie. It can potentially ruin the movie magic so I even jokingly told Jennifer that I’m doing this to protect her. Haha. Seriously though, I’ve come to believe that it doesn’t matter how I achieve a sound in a movie.. All that matters is that it moves you and you respond to it. If I can achieve that, I’ve done my job. Over the years, I’ve simply become respectful of this phenomenon so I don’t want to make it about my quirky clever ideas but rather about whether you enjoy the movie.
And finally… what’s it like actually watching the full end-result of a film / TV show you’ve worked on, are you able to detach from your sound design work and enjoy it as a spectator?
It’s awesome and yes, always! Love what I do!